Friday, July 31, 2015

Caftan Woman's Choice: One for August on TCM

The Tall Target has the three things that make a movie great - trains, murder, and trains.

Released in 1951 The Tall Target is a political and historical thriller from director Anthony Mann. It is only one of the legacy of quality films from Mann in film-noir (Raw Deal, He Walked by Night, T-Men), groundbreaking adult westerns (Winchester '73, Devil's Doorway, The Tin Star) and epics (El Cid, The Fall of the Roman Empire).

The story and screenplay by George Worthington Yates and Art Cohn is based on the threat of assassination of Abraham Lincoln prior to his inauguration as President of the United States known as The Baltimore Plot.

Adolphe Menjou, Dick Powell

Dick Powell stars as John Kennedy, a police officer once assigned to protect the politician who believes he has stumbled upon a plot to kill President-elect Lincoln, but cannot convince the authorities of the imminent danger. Stripped of his credentials, Kennedy faces a lonely and danger-filled night battling the conspirators on board a train bound for the inauguration.


Is there anyone Sgt. Kennedy can trust? The peacock-proud newly-minted Union officer played by Adolphe Menjou seems willing. A young southern West Pointer played by Marshall Thompson is touchy and flustered, while his sister played by Paula Raymond and their slave played by Ruby Dee are dealing with their own difficulties.

Florence Bates, Will Geer

The all-knowing conductor played by Will Geer has a deceptively distracted air. The over-bearing authoress played by Florence Bates may be more of a hindrance with her forcefully shared opinions. The rambunctious and larcenous youngster traveling with his mother, Peter Morrow and Barbara Billingsley, would only be in the way.

Lief Ericson

The menacing thug played by Lief Ericson leaves Kennedy no doubt as to the validity of the plot and the lengths to which the conspirators will go. I grew up watching Ericson on his series The High Chaparral and he is an actor who intrigues me. He was one of those Group Theatre lads, but I haven't been able to catch him at it.

Ruby Dee, Paula Raymond

It is not only physical danger that is faced throughout the long night. The characters played by Misses Raymond and Dee are forced to face their emotional loyalties and political realities.

Dick Powell

A thoughtful and exciting edge-of-your-seat thriller, The Tall Target is well-written, and energetically performed and directed. The moody black and white cinematography is courtesy of Academy Award Winner (Battleground), Paul Vogel. At a crisp 78 minutes, The Tall Target is as dandy a thriller to ever come out of Hollywood.

TCM is screening The Tall Target on Monday, August 3rd at 2:45 am as part of Adolph Menjou's day for Summer Under the Stars. It couldn't be a better time to be a Night Owl.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

GELETT BURGESS ON REMAKE AVENUE: "Two in the Dark" (1936) and "Two O'Clock Courage" (1945)

Gelett Burgess
1866 - 1951

Gaze upon the features of the man who gave us Goops, and How to Be Them, plus sequels, A Classic Dictionary of Words You Have Always Needed, such as "blurb", and The Purple Cow.

 I never saw a purple cow
I never hope to see one;
But I can tell you, anyhow,
I'd rather see than be one!

The humorist, art critic, poet, author, and editor (The Lark) influenced generations and continues to do so to this very day as the Gelett Burgess Center annually awards their prestigious award to the best in children's literature.

Mr. Burgess was also the author of a dandy mystery published in 1934 called Two O'Clock Courage. The story involves an amnesiac and his attempts to prove or disprove his involvement in a high profile murder case. Sounds perfect for the movies, doesn't it? Well, it certainly kept the folks at RKO busy.

The 1936 version of the story is called Two in the Dark and was directed by Benjamin Stoloff, a veteran of shorts, westerns, and comedies, from a Seton I. Miller (The Adventures of Robin Hood, Ministry of Fear, Pete's Dragon) screenplay.

Our film opens with the silhouette of a man walking toward us out of the fog. He stops by a street sign to ascertain his whereabouts and we see he has a head injury.

Our as yet unnamed hero is played by Walter Abel (Holiday Inn). He is next to a gated park; it is not locked and he enters and sits on a bench barely noticing the young woman sitting on an opposite bench. However, she notices the nattily dressed stranger with the hunted look. No matter his circumstances, I find Walter Abel always looks very neat.

Margot Grahame, Walter Abel

The woman is played by Margot Grahame (The Informer). She plays an actress whose show has closed leaving her stranded in Boston and kicked out of her boarding house by a heartless landlady. She may have her troubles, but the poor fellow on the other bench really looks like he needs help. They are continually hustled along by the beat cop played by Ward Bond until it is daylight.

Determining the police as their best possible place for help, they are stopped outside the station-house by the morning paper which indicates our man may have something to do with a murder. Using the scant clues available to them; initials in a hat, matchsticks from a nightclub, and ticket stubs to a play, our detective duo sets out to determine the why, the where, and, most especially, the who.

Along the course of their investigation, they are involved with the official lead investigator played by Alan Hale (The Adventures of Robin Hood) and a know-it-all reporter played by Wallace Ford (The Informer). Gail Patrick (My Man Godfrey) is a society gal who seems very tight with our hero. Erin O'Brien-Moore (Peyton Place) is a glamorous actress with romantic problems. There are great bits for Eric Blore (Top Hat) as a nervous butler and Erik Rhodes (Top Hat) as a hysterical musician.

The film starts off as a moody little thriller and manages to maintain that atmosphere even with the addition of comic elements, personified by the reporter and the wisecracks between that character and our actress. Abel conveys a true sense of the confusion of a man who doesn't even recognize his own face, coming to life when thrown into the midst of the action. Grahame has a weary, resigned vibe to her character at the beginning that fades as she throws herself into the task at hand with an unwavering belief in her companion, tinged with the hint of romance.

Actresses, butlers, tailors who sideline as amateur detectives, producers, gangsters - how will it all end?  There's a neat double twist at the end of the string for a very satisfying, entertaining film. 


The 1945 version of the story reverts to the title of Two O'Clock Courage and was directed by Anthony Mann (The Tall Target) from a screenplay by Robert E. Kent (Where the Sidewalk Ends).

Our movie begins with the silhouette of a man walking away from us into the fog. We follow him as he stops next to a street sign and we notice he is bleeding from a head wound. He steps into the street and avoids being run down by a taxi due to the quick thinking of its female operator. And we're off!

 Ann Rutherford, Tom Conway

Tom Conway (The Cat People) is our man with no name, but full of determination to unravel the mystery. Ann Rutherford (Orchestra Wives) is the entrepreneurial young lady who turned to cab driving (she calls her car "Harry") when her acting career didn't lead anywhere. She is a fast and voracious talker who talks herself and her companion into and out of all sorts of situations. Her faith in her strange passenger is strong and purely romantic.

The master of bluster Emory Parnell (Gildersleeve's Ghost) takes the part of the inspector in charge of the case. The loud-mouthed reporter is played by Richard Lane (Take Me Out to the Ballgame) and, believe you me, he's cornered the market on obnoxious for this role. The banter between him and Rutherford's character is whatever the word is for more than sparring. It is certainly taken up a notch from the earlier feature.

Twenty-year-old Bettejane Greer (the "Bette" would be dropped after this film), is a pretty, but still gawky young woman in the role of our hero's date of the previous evening. You can see the makings of the femme fatale that would emerge in Jane Greer by 1947s Out of the Past. The glamorous star role is given to Jean Brooks, so heartbreakingly mysterious in The Seventh Victim

Fun bits are contributed by Chester Clute (My Favorite Wife) as a sports-minded tailor and Almira Sessions (Sullivan's Travels) as his murder mystery loving wife. The movie's best drunk, Jack Norton (The Bank Dick), has a great part as a man who knows more than people give him credit for. All our leads needed to do was have a nice sit-down with the fellow and they could have wrapped the whole thing up. However, we have to run headlong into the neat double twist at the end of the string.

Two in the Dark creates a charming atmosphere to accompany the plot. Two O'Clock Courage is louder with a sense of non-stop action. Both films are well worth the viewer's time. Swallowing my fear of recrimination, I'll leave the last word to Gellet Burgess : 

 Ah, yes, I wrote the "Purple Cow"—
I'm Sorry, now, I wrote it;
But I can tell you Anyhow
I'll Kill you if you Quote it!

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Leo G. Carroll Fan Club, plus

Leo G. Carroll
(1886 - 1972)

I read the most amusing story the other day, especially written to push the buttons of character actor fans.  Leo G. Carroll Fan Club by LeVar Ravel is a dollar buy for your Kindle and a nice accompaniment to a pot of tea.  

Set in 1966, our unnamed narrator becomes involved with a small and quirky set of characters who worship at the shrine of Leo G. Carroll.  Our narrator is not as enamored of the British actor as the club members with whom he becomes involved, so how did he get in so deep?  Attending a film festival his encyclopedic knowledge of movie trivia, particular that of the Carroll-Hitchcock connection convinces a fellow filmgoer that here is someone destined to join the club.

The club members are not legion, but their devotion to their idol rivals my own Charlie Chan fandom.  They are male, female, old, young, rich, conservative, and hippies.  They collect memorabilia, they meet, they drink tea.  They form friendships and they fight.  Just like any normal family.  The outside world is about to intrude in the unexpected form of international crime.  Will their devotion to Leo G. Carroll help or hinder them in this life or death situation?


An actor with such a long and distinguished stage and screen career as Leo G. Carroll would find himself no stranger to crime stories.  Two of my favourites are of the B movie variety.

Sapper's international man of mystery, Captain Hugh "Bulldog" Drummond (John Howard) and his fiancee Phyllis Clavering (Heather Angel) are preparing the family estate for their anticipated wedded bliss when death and mystery come to their very doorstep and comes in for a visit.  We're watching 1939s Bulldog Drummond's Secret Police.

A Professor Downie (Forrester Harvey), one of those absent-minded types comes to tea with a coded book that claims to give the location of a treasure buried right within the walls of the estate.  Phyllis sees nothing but trouble and yet another delay in their marriage, but what red-blooded boy can resist the lure of buried treasure?  The gang is all there for the fun including Inspector Nielson (H.B. Warner), Algy Longworth (Reginald Denny) and the indispensable Tenny (E.E. Clive).  At least Phyllis' Aunt Blanche (Elizabeth Patterson) can be depended upon to be sensible, or can she?

Things turn nasty quite suddenly with the murder of Professor Downie.  Is it possible that the new servant sent from the employment agency could be involved?  It's good old Leo G. Carroll.  Surely he has nothing to hide.  What starts out as a rather routine story has a very exciting, action-filled ending.

Leo G. Carroll appeared in two Chan pictures, 1939s City in Darkness and 1940s Charlie Chan's Murder Cruise Charlie Chan's Murder Cruise is based on Earl Derr Biggers' novel Charlie Chan Carries On.  The 1931 film adaption of the novel is one of the lost Chans, however the Spanish language version Eran trece, also from 1931 is available on one of the DVD box sets and currently on YouTube.

Inspector Duff (Montague Shaw) of Scotland Yard has attached himself to a cruise of suspects in a London murder.  Nearing the end of the trip, the last leg of which is from Honolulu to San Francisco, the Inspector pays a visit to his old and dear friend Inspector Chan.  Duff confides that he feels certain he will have his man soon, but before the final details are revealed he is murdered in Charlie Chan's own office.  Owing a debt to his friend, Charlie Chan, as the novel's title tells us, "carries on" with the case.
Sidney Toler, Lionel Atwill, Leo G. Carroll

The holiday-makers are a diverse group of suspects.  We meet the boisterous Don Beddoe, the wacky Cora Witherspoon and her young companion Marjorie Weaver.  And get to know the wealthy heir Robert Lowery, the secretive Kay Linaker, the forgetful Leo G. Carroll and the officious Lionel Atwill.  Will the Inspector and Number 2 son, Jimmy solve the crime in time to prevent more terror?  There's fun and games, and murder in the middle of the ocean!  Irresistible, if you ask me.  Get your ticket now.

Monday, July 13, 2015

The 1947 blogathon: Dick Tracy Meets Gruesome

"Welcome to the Coffee Pot.  Your home away from home.  The special today home style pot roast with apple pie for dessert for a dollar.  What can I get ya'?"

"The special sounds good, Miss."

"Sure thing.  One special, Cookie!  Oh, you've got the afternoon paper.  Gee, that sure is a swell picture of Dick Tracy on the front page.  Worth saving.  Reading about that business at the Wood Plastics Inc. factory last night?  Boy, some hot stuff!  Oh, would you like some coffee?"

"Thanks.  Cream and sugar."

"Cookie and me, we know all about it.  Probably more than the newspaper boys."

"You do?"

"Sure.  Being just around the corner from headquarters, we get a lot of business from the cops.  They like our coffee.  We hear a lot of the inside dope."

"Dick Tracy himself eats here?"

"Sure.  Well ... not as often as some of the guys...well, not as often as I'd like.  Ha. Ha.  But he does like our apple pie, especially when he's celebrating."

Ralph Byrd
(1909 - 1952)

Uncredited in many of his over 80 films, actor Ralph Byrd found the role he was born to play in the 1938 serial Dick Tracy Returns.  He would portray the famous comic strip detective in 2 other serials, 2 features and a television series (1950-52).  The handsome and energetic actor was felled by a heart attack at the age of 43 leaving a widow and teenaged daughter, and many fans.  

"Know anything about this business in the paper?"

"Sure.  But the thing is, it doesn't start at Wood Plastics.  No.  It starts at the University.  This Professor A. Tomic goes to the cops with a problem.  He's got the feeling he's being followed and doesn't know what to do about it.  Chief Brandon thinks he's a crackpot, but Tracy offers him protection.  What everybody doesn't know is that it's already too late.

Anyway, before the night is over Dick Tracy is sidelined by a little problem from Pat Patton.  He's Tracy's assistant.  Anyway, Patton is running in this drunk for Officer Carney, but the guy dies in Patton's car.  Or did he?"

"Are you pulling my leg, sister?"

"No, sir.  Patton says the guy was stiff as a board.  He took him to the morgue and even the police doctor thought it was a case for homicide.  That's when Tracy came into it.  Only by the time he got the morgue, Patton was out for the count because whatever "killed" the drunk wasn't permanent.  He woke up, slugged Patton and hightailed it outta there."

"Sounds incredible.  More coffee, please."

"Sure thing.  Anyway, the next day - you probably read about it - was that freaky robbery at National Bank.  Tess Truehart, she's Dick Tracy's sweetie and honestly, that woman gets into more trouble...well, anyway, she was in the bank during the robbery.  Something happened to everybody in that bank.  At exactly 3 o'clock everybody froze stiff!  You know, like playing statues when we were kids.  Well, everybody froze except for Tess.  She was in the phone booth and stayed alert.  Must have been a crazy thing to see.  While everybody was stiff as a board, the crooks come in and gather up the money like they was picking berries or something.  Tess - well, she's a smart one, I'll give her that - she phones HQ and gets the coppers on the job.  Only it was another bank guard that messed up the getaway and ended up getting shot for his troubles.  A sad business."

Boris Karloff
(1887 - 1969)

Dick Tracy Meets Gruesome ended Boris Karloff's contract with RKO which gave him some of the best roles of his film career under Val Lewton's unit with The Body Snatcher, Isle of the Dead and Bedlam.  The latter part of Boris' career would see him return to Broadway for The Linden Tree, The Shop at Sly Corner, Peter Pan and The Lark (Tony nomination) along with a mix of film and television work.

"What's the bank job got to do with the "dead" drunk or the professor for that matter?"

"The professor is the brains behind the statue deal and the leader of the crooks is none other than our pal the stiff."

"No kidding?"

"No kidding.  More coffee?"


"The people at the bank were frozen by some sort of gas from some sort of unknown chemical.  One of our regulars is Fred, and he's a police analyst.  It's his job to figure out stuff like that.  Anyway, Tracy figures this leads right back to Professor A. Tomic, but when he gets to the university the Egghead is missing.  I.M. Learned, Assistant to the prof co-operates with Tracy, but only to a point.  She's a classy and smart gal, but all us gals got our weaknesses and hers, natch, is a fella."

"What fellow, the professor or the walking dead guy?"

"Someone else entirely.  Mr. L.E. Thal, the owner of Wood Plastics Inc."

"Oh, so that's where last night's business comes in."

"Yeah.  This Thal character is stepping out with Irma, the lady scientist.  He hears about the chemical the professor was working on and gets the bright idea of using it for the bank robberies."

"Hold on.  Does that explain the "dead" drunk guy?"

"You got it.  You see, Thal has these big ideas, not to mention the professor on ice, but he doesn't know anything about putting his ideas into action.  He needs a real, genuine crook.  And that's this Gruesome guy.  He got knocked out by the gas before he realized what it was.  I was real close to Gruesome once and boy, does that moniker do him justice!"

"When was this?"

"Well, Fred, the police analyst, sets me up with this cousin of his that works for the City.  He's an ambulance driver.  I'm all set for a night on the town and you know where the guy takes me?  The Hangman's Knot!  Of all the dives in this town, he takes me to The Hangman's Knot.  I'll bet ya' Dick Tracy never takes Tess Trueheart to a known spot for your underworld types.  Even the piano player, a guy called Melody, was an ex-con.  Turns out Melody is part of the Thal gang and when his buddy Gruesome gets outta the Pen, he joins the gang.  Joins it!  He takes over.

Anyway, I'm about to tell the big spender I'm with how he can spend the rest of his evening when in walks Gruesome.  Big fella.  Musta been about 7 feet tall.  Nasty lookin' face and a reach on him that could take out three or four guys.  Real weird.  If I didn't know better I'd swear it was Boris Karloff.  He and Melody make themselves at home and start palavering with this creepy little guy with coke bottle glasses.  Looks suspicious and later I'm able to pass this on to the cops myself."

"Gee, you were really in the thick of things."

"I see the little fella sneaking out the back room and the next thing you know Dick Tracy and Pat Patton show up.  They tied in Patton's weird drunk with The Hangman's Knot on Carney's beat and were checking the joint out.  When Patton gloms onto Gruesome, the lights go out and Gruesome and Melody take one quick powder with Tracy and Patton right on their tails.  There's a crack-up.  Gruesome gets away, but Melody is banged up something fierce.  Doctors don't give him much hope and they're right."

"How does that get us back to Wood Plastics Inc.?"

"The papers print a lot about Dick Tracy, but I don't think they tell half of the brave things he does.  Tracy puts himself in Melody's place, all bandaged up and lets it leak that he's gonna spill to the cops.  That's when Gruesome goes into action to silence his old pal.  It's nothing to him.  He's already offed that poor professor fella and the lady egghead.  So Gruesome puts the snatch on Melody, but it's really Dick Tracy all along.  Anyway, the whole megillah comes down to that shootout at the factory last night.  Wow!  Dick Tracy came close to buying the farm, but he got Gruesome and that guy will fry for sure."

"Thanks for the story.  Tell Cookie I liked the chow.  Keep the paper, Miss.  Just in case you want that picture of Dick Tracy."

"Thanks.  I will.  Come back any time.  The Coffee Pot is your home away from home."

The 1947 Blogathon is the brainchild of a couple of right dames called Karen (Shadows and Satin) and Kristina (Speakeasy).

Day one recap here.
Day two recap here.
Day three recap here.


Terence Towles Canote at A Shroud of Thoughts is hosting The 8th Annual Favourite TV Show Episode Blogathon . The popular blogathon is runn...